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Josh Heupel explains decision to score late against Missouri

Was he running it up? Yep. So what?

Syndication: The Knoxville News-Sentinel Caitie McMekin/News Sentinel / USA TODAY NETWORK

After suffering the loss last week to No. 1 Georgia, Tennessee predictably fell just outside of the top four. Immediately following Alabama’s loss to LSU and Clemson’s loss to Notre Dame, Tennessee’s path forward became clear.

Win out, do it convincingly, and everything should work itself out. The Volunteers can’t afford any close calls as they try to pry their way back into that top four. We know style points matter — margin of victory in conference play can push you over the edge in the eye test category. So what does that mean? Score as many points as you possibly can.

That’s what Tennessee did on Saturday. Up big late, Josh Heupel brought in his backups but didn’t take his foot off of the gas pedal. Joe Milton dropped a couple of bombs down the field to close things out, manufacturing two aggressive touchdown drives late in the fourth quarter.

Tennessee ended up winning 66-24. Some in the media and on the broadcast were upset about it.

Style points aside for one second, also remember Eli Drinkwitz jabbing Tennessee back in the summer. Coincidence? Maybe. I’m going to guess it wasn’t though.

Either way, style points plus a little payback? Heupel had every reason in the world to punch in that last touchdown on Saturday.

“The statement for us is that we’re a good football team playing good football,” Heupel said of the late score. “What the scoreboard ultimately ends up being, and what people down the line may judge us for, we’re out of control of some of those things. There were a lot of things that were good in the first half, some things that weren’t — offensively, in all three phases. Our best football is still out in front of us. I am proud of the fight, the competition, the ability to reset. The second half, the way our guys went out and competed in all three phases, it was a good win.”

For the record, Drinkwitz didn’t have an issue with it.

So, my question to the college football national media is this — do style points really matter to you or are you going to be offended by them? When Tennessee does it, it’s suddenly a problem? USC did the same thing on Friday night and nothing was made of it. They’re in the exact same position that Tennessee is in.

59 vs. 66 points doesn’t seem like anything on the surface, but when you stack resumes together at the end of season, you’ll take every statistical advantage that you can muster. Part of that is the eye test, which Tennessee passed with flying colors in the second half. The other part is recency bias, and getting that Georgia game in the rearview mirror.

One detail getting lost in all this? Heupel did it with his backups! It was Joe Milton running the show late, not Hendon Hooker. The 13th ranked Missouri defense couldn’t do a thing about it, either. If it’s Hendon slinging touchdowns at the buzzer, that’s one thing. But it wasn’t.

Tennessee can’t change the outcome in Athens, but they can score 60 points in three straight weeks to make the committee remember how good their offense is. Will it make a difference? We don’t know. But it’s all Tennessee can do — so they’re going to do it.

Drinkwitz had the perfect response to the situation, and good for him. It’ll be interesting to see if the media addresses it on Tuesday night during the next CFP rankings reveal.